Uber shutters UberPop in Norway, says it hopes for law change

Natasha Lomas
Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, continues to be keen to be seen to be doing things differently vs the Travis Kalanick era Uber which got bogged down with so many scandals -- most recently culminating in the company being stripped of its license to operate in London, leading to a public apology from Khosrowshahi.

Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, continues to be keen to be seen to be doing things differently vs the Travis Kalanick era Uber which got bogged down with so many scandals -- most recently culminating in the company being stripped of its license to operate in London, leading to a public apology from Khosrowshahi.

The latest instance of Uber's new broom trying to clean the muck off its tires in public comes with the news today that the company is to 'pause' its UberPop service in Norway on October 30 -- pending a change in regulations in future which would enable it to operate with legal clarity.

So it's basically pulling the plug on UberPop in Oslo, leaving only its licensed UberBLACK and UberXXL services.

Uber claims to have some 280,000 users in the city -- which appears to be the only location where Uber is available in Norway -- along with "hundreds" of drivers.

UberPop is one of the brands Uber uses in Europe for its lowest cost ride-hailing service which connects passengers with private drivers. However in many cities in Europe where it operates UberPop has been actively banned -- including in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, ItalySweden, to name a few. (Uber also refers to peer-to-peer ride-hailing as UberX in some markets, such as London.)

In a Q&A about suspending UberPop in Oslo, Uber spins this as it acting responsibly towards users and drivers. "We want to act as a responsible company that cares about all of its users, and we especially want to limit any issues that drivers may encounter on the road," it writes.

"Since uberPOP launched in Oslo three years ago, there has been a lack of clarity about new platforms like Uber and how they fit into the existing Norwegian model. We acknowledge the importance of these questions. That’s why we’re engaging in a constructive dialogue with policymakers across the political spectrum to find a solution that works for all Norwegians."

However the other way to look at this is Uber again closing down an unlicensed taxi service that's widely considered to be operating outside the law -- as it also did in Denmark, earlier this year, for instance. It also suspended its service in Finland for a year in July, pending a new taxi deregulation law that comes in 2018.

However, unlike in Finland, there is no guaranteed timeframe for a new, Uber-friendly law to be introduced in Norway. So the company looks to be trying something new vis-a-vis lobbying for taxi industry deregulation in the market.

Uber drivers in Oslo have faced police crackdowns. While the company has been under pressure from Norwegian authorities over tax (a large section of its local website for drivers is given over to instructing them they are responsible for reporting tax). It had already threatened to pull out of Norway this summer.

And while it's now making good on that threat, it's doing so in a conciliatory tone of voice -- in the hopes of ultimately influencing Norway's lawmakers to change local regulations in its favor. (Local press reports that Norway's ministry of transport is due to provide steerage on regulatory change on October 27.)

So while in Denmark Uber talked fairly tough -- saying it was being "left with no choice but to close the service" -- in Norway it's chosen to strike a more upbeat note, saying "we'll stay on the ground to advocate for fair rules that promote more choices for consumers", and adding: "We hope the government will implement these recommendations soon, so that we can relaunch a new and improved version of the product loved by so many."

In his open letter after the London licensing loss late last month, Khosrowshahi wrote: "As Uber’s new CEO it’s my job to help Uber write its next chapter. We won’t be perfect but we will listen to you; we will look to be long term partners with the cities we serve; and we will run our business with humility, integrity and passion."

Shuttering -- it hopes, temporarily -- UberPop in Oslo looks to be another attempt by Uber to use a more appealing, softer speaking voice as it seeks to engage and win over city regulators.

"Norway deserves modernized laws that encourage innovation and competition without sacrificing what makes the Norwegian model special," it writes. "This is already happening elsewhere: Finland recently passed progressive reforms, and we chose to pause uberPOP in Helsinki in order to relaunch when the new law comes into effect in 2018. Here in Norway, we’re encouraged by the recommendations from the ESA, the competition authority and the government’s own sharing economy committee. The government parties, Høyre and Fremskrittspartiet, have stated in their party programs that change needs to happen in the transport sector."

In a statement given to Reuters, the company also said: "We’ve learned the hard way that we must change as a company in order to serve the millions of riders and drivers who rely on us. With our new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi onboard, it’s a new era for Uber. That’s why it’s now time to pause UberPOP in Norway, in order to relaunch under new regulations.”

Asked whether Uber is considering suspending UberPop in any other European markets at this stage, a spokesman told us: "I don't believe there are any other plans." Update: The spokesman has now confirmed: "There are no other plans to close other markets -- this is Norway specific."

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